At the Opening of Parliament every February, the President of South Africa delivers the State of the Nation Address (SoNA), which outlines the country’s performance for the past year and plans for the year ahead.
Before the President makes his way into the National Assembly Chamber some ceremonial activities and cultural performances usually take place along the route and outside of Parliament. In keeping with customary proceedings, Cultural groups perform along the President’s route from the old Slave Lodge to the National Assembly.
Here is a breakdown of the significance of some of those activities:
Presidential procession to the National Assembly Chamber
The ceremony, starts just outside the entrance to the Parliamentary precinct, is a combination of public participation and a formal state ceremony.
The public participates in the procession as part of making Parliament more accessible to the people and to facilitate public involvement in law-making and other parliamentary processes. This concept of public participation was introduced by the late President Nelson Mandela.
Members of the public, including a Junior Guard of Honour from the entrance of the parliamentary precinct to the end of the National Council of Provinces building, a Civil Guard of Honour and nine Eminent Persons, line the red carpet until the end of the Old Assembly Wing.
From there the procession becomes part of a formal, state ceremony.
A Ceremonial Military Guard of Honour takes up positions in front of the National Assembly building and a military band sets up to the right of the building near Tuynhuys and plays the national anthem.
There is a 21-gun salute and an air force fly-past while the President takes the national salute from a special dais in front of the National Assembly building.
The 21-gun salute
The tradition of bestowing a salute by firing cannons originated in the 14th century when cannons and firearms came into use. In 1842, the 21-gun salute became the international norm for the highest honour a nation rendered and it is fired in honour of the Head of State, the national flag, the Head of State of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family and a former Head of State.
The red carpet
The concept of rolling out the red carpet was originally reserved for kings and queens and signified a welcome of great hospitality and ceremony. Over time, the red carpet has been used to welcome Heads of State.
The presence of a praise singer
Praise singers have been a feature of the SoNA ceremony since 2005. They come from a variety of provinces and languages.
What happens after the SoNA?
- Political parties have an opportunity to, comment and raise questions on matters addressed in the President’s speech during a debate on the President’s Speech.
- This debate usually takes place over two days in a joint sitting.
- The President will have the opportunity to reply to the debate.
The SoNA will be broadcast live on:
- SABC radio stations.
- SABC TV.
- Parliament TV (DStv Channel 408).
Who attends the SoNA?
The SoNA guest list is made up of national, provincial and local government leaders, representatives of the House of Traditional Leaders, members of the public and representatives from civil organisations, among others.
All guests in the public galleries of the National Assembly Chamber are able to listen to the SoNA in the language of their choice.
Besides the interpretation of the address into all 11 official languages, there is also South African Sign Language interpreting available for deaf people. Tactile interpretation is also available for deafblind people present at Parliament.